Elena Baltacha, 30, dies from liver cancer
LONDON -- Elena Baltacha, the former top-50 professional tennis player who had been fighting liver cancer since retiring from the game, died Sunday. She was 30.
The Lawn Tennis Association announced the death of the former British No. 1 on its website, with former Fed Cup coach Iain Bates describing Baltacha as "a true role model, a great competitor and a wonderful friend."
The Kiev-born Baltacha, who represented Britain at the 2012 London Olympics, was diagnosed with the illness in January, two months after retiring from tennis and only weeks after she married her long-time coach Nino Severino.
"We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally," Severino said in a statement. "She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness."
After being diagnosed with a chronic liver condition at age 19, Baltacha dealt with illness throughout her career, receiving medication and regular blood tests.
Her best ranking was 49th in 2010, and she reached the third round at Grand Slam tournaments three times -- at Wimbledon in 2002, and at the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010. Ankle problems eventually forced her to retire in November, and she had hoped to use her experience to develop the next generation of British players.
"We have so many special memories to cherish, but this leaves a gaping hole for everybody in both British and women's tennis, and words simply cannot express how saddened we are by this news," Bates said.
Baltacha was born into a sporting family. Father Sergei played football for Dynamo Kiev and English club Ipswich, and won a bronze medal for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Mother Olga represented the Soviet Union in the pentathlon.